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Azat Miftakhov attends a court hearing in Moscow on January 18.

A pan-European human rights watchdog has expressed concern after a Russian court handed a long prison sentence for hooliganism to a university mathematics student who says he was tortured while in custody.

"The allegations we are hearing with regard to this case are certainly of concern, and we will continue to follow its development closely," a spokeswoman at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) told RFE/RL on January 20, two days after 25-year-old Azat Miftakhov was sentenced to six years in prison.

"ODIHR is continually following the human rights situation in all 57 countries of the OSCE region, and frequently raises issues with individual states," Katya Andrusz said.

The press service of the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights organization, on Janaruy 19 said the organization was following the case "closely."

A court in the Russian capital on January 18 found Miftakhov, a postgraduate student at Moscow State University, guilty of being involved in an arson attack on the ruling United Russia party's office in Moscow in 2018.

Miftakhov has denied the charges, which his lawyers say stem from his anarchist beliefs and support for political prisoners.

A prominent Russian human rights organization, Memorial, has declared Miftakhov a political prisoner.

The student was arrested in early 2019 and accused of helping make an improvised bomb found in the city of Balashikha near Moscow.

He was released several days after the initial charge failed to hold, but was rearrested immediately and charged with being involved in the attack on the United Russia office in January 2018.

The Public Monitoring Commission, a human rights group, has said that Miftakhov's body bore the signs of torture, which the student claimed were the result of investigators unsuccessfully attempting to force him to confess to the bomb-making charge.

Others who were detained along with Miftakhov but later released also claim to have been beaten by police.

Police detain people protesting during parliamentary elections in Aqtobe on January 10.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says an ongoing "crackdown" on human rights groups in Kazakhstan for alleged financial-reporting violations casts "serious doubt" that the Central Asian country's leadership is serious about improving its human rights record.

The New York-based watchdog said on January 20 that the authorities had long used "restrictive laws and overbroad charges" against human rights activists and organizations, "but what's shocking about this latest attack on freedom of association in Kazakhstan is how many groups are being targeted at once and the blatantly unlawful manner in which the authorities are acting."

In a statement, Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at HRW, cited the case of election-monitoring group Echo, which was fined by tax officials in Almaty on January 15. Three days later, officials in Nur-Sultan also fined the human rights group Erkindik Kanaty.

At least four other nongovernmental organizations -- the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, the International Legal Initiative, the Legal Media Center, and MediaNet -- had been summoned to local tax offices in the coming days, Rittmann said, adding that these groups were also facing possible fines and a suspension of their their operations.

In November, tax authorities brought claims against more than a dozen rights groups, in some cases years after the alleged violations of financial reporting, according to the researcher, who urged the international community to "speak out in support of these respected human rights groups and against the coordinated and unlawful actions of the Kazakh authorities against them."

"Their future existence could depend on it," she added.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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